The source of Canada’s “Indian Problem” is the theft of Indigenous lands and resources

Whether it is land or water, minerals or precious stones, or trees and animals, Canada is the jealous younger brother who wants everything their older and wiser brother has. 

By Starla Myers

Canada’s criminalization of Onkwehonwe land protectors and silencing of Indigenous reporters directly results from their efforts to usurp land and natural resources that our people have used and accessed as long as the sun has risen. 

In 1876, “An Act to amend and consolidate the laws respecting Indians” was introduced to assert Canada’s complete control over the day-to-day activities of “Indians.” According to the “Fathers of Confederation,” vigorous legislation was needed to “tame the savage” and to promote Indian “enfranchisement” into the Canadian system. In 1879, John A MacDonald made it clear that the key issue was to break the Indian way of thinking, and the Indian mind itself. 

“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

~Sir John A MacDonald

The Indian Act built an Indian Reserve system that was designed to get Indians off of their territory, and concentrated in small pockets of marginal lands where they could be more easily controlled. 

The 1857 – GRADUAL CIVILIZATION OF THE INDIAN TRIBES enfranchisement scheme was one of Upper Canada’s first legislative attempts to extinguish Indians.

Unable to leave the reserve to enter nearby towns within our own traditional territory, the pass system effectively reduced Indigenous people’s ability to communicate with family, friends or business partners of sister nations and greatly interfered in our participation in fair business and trade. We were required to seek permission to leave the reserve by an Indian agent or the farming instructor. 

Banner in support of Mi’qmak fishers. Photo by Amber Skye.

Despite never being written into law, the pass system made us prisoners, violated treaties and broke Canada’s own laws. The root of the “moderate livelihood” fishing dispute in the Maritimes lies in ensuring that the Mi’qmak will never be in a position to compete with their non-native counterparts in the Lobster fisheries. 

The other end of this spectrum, which balances the reciprocal relationship with the earth, sees Algonquin communities in Quebec placing hunting moratoriums on Moose. This was done to allow for the species’ recovery but has led to criticism of the Algonquin land protectors by white hunters. Outright physical violence resulted in a moose leg being thrown at land protectors in a bid for non-natives to assert their “right” to hunt Moose to extinction. In a worldview where we should only take what is needed so as to not leave anything to waste, using a moose leg in such a manner is all the more reason to reduce access to the hunt.

Photo of the Algonquin enforced Moose Moratorium camp by Christal Ratt.

Resource extraction is reliant on this country’s survival and its success depends on how much this country can remove from the original caretakers. Policies are created that make this theft appear as though it is in our best interest, that they deal with us most fairly and reasonably. Yet buried deep within the political jargon and lost mostly in English words that cannot possibly be translated to Onkwehon:we understanding and world view lies the real intent. The complete annihilation of a race of people who dare to reject their offers and refuse to acknowledge their “control” over us. 

From historical treaties that were offered and are now suddenly open to their interpretation under modern federal frameworks, we are at a complete disadvantage. Their refusal to learn our ways of understanding places us directly under their jurisdiction as an incompetent child who needs a guardian. Specifically, a guardian who puts their needs above those whom they purport to be protecting. 

We have resisted since their arrival, however our kindness has often been mistaken for weakness. Our belief that the earth provides for us but is not dependent upon us leads us to know that balance is essential for survival, and Indigenous ecological knowledge also allows us to understand when we must step back and give the Earth time to heal and rest.

Is the Crown at war with us? a film by Alanis Obomsawin

As a country Canada has a severe problem, and it is not the Indians who are the problem. As defined by the Indian Act, it is the policy writers, lawmakers, law enforcement, mayors and Band councils, only to point out a few, that should be the ones under scrutiny. 

We are paying attention, and we have our own media entities by which to record and document what is happening. We see clearly those who refuse to acknowledge the existence of the original people of this land and who are complicit in the ongoing genocide.

The times are changing, but we’re still here and we’re gathering in strength. We shall prevail!

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